More branches

Unlike the University of Warwick, the University of New South Wales will continue to develop its branch campus in Singapore. The University of Warwick decided not to establish a branch campus because of financial reasons and because of Singapore’s regulation that foreign institutions are not allowed to criticise local politics. UNSW and Warwick were the only two foreign universities granted special status by the Singaporean Government to set up fully fledged independent teaching and research institutions offering undergraduate degrees. UNSW expects to open the doors of its UNSW Asia Campus, to up to 15,000 students from early 2007. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, it is also a major financial investment:

“UNSW has already secured a State Government-endorsed bank loan of $113 million for the Singapore campus. But it will also receive about $80 million in capital works funding from the Singapore Government, a figure the university’s deputy vice-chancellor (international and development), John Ingleson, has refused to confirm or deny, on the grounds that it is commercial-in-confidence.”

I have been posting about this topic before. It is not that I am against the establishments of foreign branch campuses and neither are these posts meant to criticise Singapore’s desire to attract foreign universities. However I do think there needs to be some more transparency (especially in the case of public universities) and more balance between financial interests and public or academic interests. The UNSW is a good and well respected university, but I would expect some better arguments for their decisions. Here are a few of them:

  • Professor Ingleson said he had been assured by the Government there that students and academics would enjoy complete academic freedom on campus. He dismissed concerns raised by the Warwick pull-out, arguing that UNSW had “a more nuanced view of how Singapore and its society worked”.
  • “There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech in any country … in that sense, our staff and our students will be subject … off-campus to the laws of Singapore like anyone else”.
  • Professor Ingleson believed Warwick’s decision was based on financial risk rather than concern about academic freedom. He said UNSW was not exposed to the same risk as Warwick because the Australian university had closer ties with the region and a more firmly established brand name.

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